Australian Olympic triathlete, Aaron Royle, talks to Trizone about his preparation for his debut at the 2016 Olympics, finishing 9th in a battle against the world’s best athletes and and the challenges of peaking on the day.
Along with Ryan Baillie and Ryan Fisher, Aaron Royle went to Rio to represent Australia in the Men’s Triathlon. After finishing 6th at the 2015 Rio Test Event, ‘Bugs’ went into the Olympics with high expectations and the hopes of a nation on his shoulders. He talks to Trizone about what it takes to prepare for the Olympics, how his race panned out and how to cope when your best isn’t quite good enough on the day.
Trizone: Aaron, congratulations on your Olympic debut and achieving 9th place against the 54 best triathletes on the planet. How did you feel about the result?
AR: It was mixed emotions towards the back end of the race. I certainly didn’t have anything left in the tank when I crossed the line. I don’t know whether it’s a positive or a negative, but as athletes we always want more, we always believe that we’re capable of more. I guess that’s what keeps us coming back. So part of me believed that I was capable of better. But I knew on that day that was all I had, there was nothing else I could have given. At the very least I have to be proud of that effort.
Preparation for the big race
Trizone: We see the race on TV or the Web and obviously the media delivers the pre-Olympic drama and hype. But can you give us an insight into the planning and preparation that goes into getting to the Olympics from an athlete’s perspective?
AR: People try and tell you that it’s just another race so you shouldn’t treat it any differently. But I think you need to recognise it for what it is – it’s the Olympics and there are 55 of the best triathletes in the world all lining up and they’ve all been focused on this one day for a very long time. So, it is a bit different. The stakes are high, people are in career-best form, so in terms of preparation it’s the focus for the year, basically.
When we looked back at the test event we realised it was quite a unique course, so we were planning especially for that. We got the demands of the course from the test event and the power profiles for the bike. Because we don’t do a lot of swimming in the sea in ITU, I even wore an accelerometer in the swim in the test event to know what type of stroke rate and opening speed I needed for a sea swim.
Trizone: Can you break that down for us? What does that mean in practice?
AR: We’re not talking open ocean swimming, but in the sea there’s always a bit of chop. So that changes the stroke, that changes the way the swim is done. Essentially you aren’t able to sit in behind people and therefore, you need to be a strong swimmer in your own right. You can’t rely on getting ‘good feet’ so you need to have a good threshold. A lot of our training focused on developing the opening speed which you need at the start of the swim, but then also having a high threshold to settle in to that high intensity so you can stay at the front end of the race.
And for the bike, we knew there was a minute hill or just under a minute, that was quite steep. I don’t know if TV did it justice, but it got up to 18-20% I believe, so it was steep. Overall, we had a lot of data outlining exactly what the demands were for this race. There’s a bunch of people who contribute – my coach, Jamie Turner, obviously plays a big part in that and there’s another guy, Adam Radford who Jamie relies on to analyse data and break down the key components and aspects of the demands of the course. Then there are the sports scientists from the AIS. I like to know about this stuff, so I ask a lot of questions. But, there’s a great deal that goes into identifying the demands of the swim, bike and run components for this single race, before we even start our specific training for it.
Peaking on race day
Trizone: The reality of being an elite triathlete is that you’re always tired. What keeps you going? How do you manage your mental state?
AR: Obviously, the Olympic Games and training for that was all the motivation I needed to get out and push myself and punish my body every day, even though a lot of days it would have been much easier to stay in bed! The aim is to be in the best possible shape you can be for one day in four years and that’s the beauty and the curse of the Olympics. To get yourself in the best possible shape for one day is actually quite difficult to do.
Trizone: There are also so many external factors that you’re not in control of – you have to manage them as best you can. Plus, as 70.3 World Champion, Tim Reed, said, sometimes you just have a good day.
AR: Exactly! I think people say this a lot and it’s true – it’s about consistency over quantity. I read somewhere, and I don’t know the exact numbers or the stats, but generally those who perform to the best of their ability complete 95 out of 100 prescribed training days. They only miss 5 days because of illness, injury, fatigue, whatever. So a 95% completion rate gives you the best chance. They may not be great days, they might not be days when you broke records, but they’re days when you get the work done consistently. But I think that’s the biggest challenge – staying healthy and injury free and continually getting those days.
Trizone: To have your body at optimum performance it needs to be looked after and nurtured and if you’re not able to do that it makes things tough.
AR: It’s a balancing act, because triathletes are notorious for always wanting more and having the mindset that ‘rest is for the weak’. I’m 26 and I’ve been around this sport for a very long time, but I still find it hard, even though I know it’s a good decision, to take an easy day or to take a day off when I’m not well. I end up thinking, “Hell, I know my competitors are out training today and I’m here laying in bed…”
I’ve always said that triathlon attracts crazy people or it turns people crazy. I don’t know which one it is, but there’s definitely a crazy side to it!
Trizone: Can you talk us through the race from the beginning?
AR: We arrived in Rio about a week beforehand and the lead-up was smooth. There were obviously extra things around the Olympics that we needed to do with the AOC and the media. A few days out from the race we moved from the Athlete Village to Ipanema where our race site was. I woke up on race morning feeling surprisingly calm for an Olympics. Obviously I was nervous and yes, a little bit more nervous than I would have been for a normal WTS race. I was excited but I wasn’t uncontrollably nervous. I knew it was the Olympics, but once I got down to the race venue everything was the same as for a WTS race. There was a comforting familiarity about it all. We had the same officials, the same coaches, the same transition, the same blue carpet… all that sort of stuff. And I remember lining up, before everyone gets called up individually to the start line, and thinking to myself this is just a normal WTS race. But then when my name was about to be called out, it hit me, “This is it. The Olympic Games. This is it. I’m ready for it. Let’s go!”
For the swim, normally in WTS your ITU ranking determines your spot on the pontoon, but in Rio it was picked at random. So the good swimmers were stretched out across the pontoon rather than being bunched up on one side, which meant that it was easier for them to get out well. It was a one lap swim which is not what we normally do and 500m to the first buoy, so the pack sorted itself out fairly quickly. Richard Varga got himself to the front and the usual suspects in the Brownlees, Henri Schoeman, myself, a few of the Russians and a few of the French were in a good spot come the first buoy, a third of the way into the swim. I could tell that I was in the front split- I was about 8th, sitting there quite comfortably after the opening surge. When you’ve had a good start and you get onto some good feet it’s normally quite relaxed and I remember thinking, ’Hopefully this is fast enough to get rid of some of the good runners like Mola and Murray’. I was a little concerned that they would be able to sit on the tempo that was set. Coming back in with about 400m to go is generally where a lot of the splits happen. I assume that Vargo, who was leading, picked up the pace because it got more strung out and that’s where it did hurt a little for me. But I was able to stay in control and in touch.
I got up onto the sand, looked around, saw the usual suspects and knew that I was in a good spot. Obviously, especially in ITU racing, you need to be desperate through the transition areas because generally that back end of the swim, the transition and the first part of the bike is where splits happen. A big focus of my race plan was to be prepared for that opening section of the bike and the transitions.
Fast and furious on the bike
AR: I got onto the bike. I knew that the Brownlees, and a couple of the Russians and the French were in front of me, but I didn’t know that people like Ryan Baillie and Mario Mola were not that far off at the start of the leg. You need to push that first part of the bike, so the Brownlees were absolutely hammering at the start. I knew I needed to do what I could to help because obviously that’s my strength and I wanted to give myself the best possible chance to perform to my potential.
It was hard – the hardest opening 15 minutes of bike I have ever experienced. Yes, we trained for that, but just because you’ve trained for it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Maybe in hindsight I pushed a bit too hard and never fully recovered come the run. Maybe not. Maybe had I not pushed as hard, it might have been Mario Mola and Rich Murray and a few good runners getting off the bike with us. It’s hard to say. But to put it in context, I heard that we rode about 2 minutes quicker than the test event last year. And a minute and a half of that was sliced off in the first two laps of the eight, so it shows how much faster those first two laps were compared to last year.
After the first two laps it settled down and the gap to the chase pack stayed at around a minute to 70 seconds for the next 6 laps. But you can’t relax. We rode along Copacabana Beach which was a straight section and then we turned and went up a side street through a steep hill and a few technical sections after that. I knew I needed to remain in good position in that area because that was the most challenging part and where it would string out a little bit.
I mentioned the steep hill earlier. For those people who like to know numbers, I had a 39:28 as my easiest gear. Even though we definitely never rode the hill easily, I dropped down to 39:28 a couple of times, but most of the time I stayed in 39:25. That’s quite a low gear for racing and I think we averaged 600 – 650w each time we pushed up the hill, which is quite high.
Overall, the ride was about staying in a good position to give myself the best possible chance to run well. The Brownlees were the main driving force, as they normally are, but as a group we rolled quite smoothly. It hurt though and it really hurt when I stepped off the bike. But I was thinking, “If I’m hurting then the other 12 or 13 guys in the lead group are hurting too.”
Bringing it home
Starting the run didn’t feel pleasant and I immediately went into 3rd, 4th and then 5th. Not for long, just for the first kilometre or so. And the Brownlees and the French guy, Vincent Luis, took off, they cleared out. I was running with Henri Schoeman and Marten Van Riel (Belgium) and I just couldn’t sustain the pace that they put on after a kilometre. Normally I run to their ability but I couldn’t sustain that and I thought to myself, well let’s settle into a pace that I know I can sustain a bit better and hope that they’ve gone out a bit too hard. Kudos to them, they held strong and they put a great performance together. Henri pushed up to third position and held on for Bronze so full credit to him. He had a fantastic race.
The run that I put together, well, I know I’m capable of something a bit better, but at the same time I know that was the best I had on the day. Pre-Olympics, we knew that a mid-31 (31 mins for 10km) off that type of bike leg was going to get you on the podium, so that’s what I trained for. Unfortunately, I found the bike very demanding and the heat in the middle of the day took its toll on me on the run. We were training to be able to run that sort of intensity off the bike, but I just wasn’t able to deliver on the day.
Trizone: To put it in context, you were just two seconds slower than the Gold Medallist, Alistair Brownlee, on the swim and only a second slower on the bike. It really did come down to the run.
Credit where credit is due
Trizone: You’ve got a reputation as a generous competitor, any callouts you’d like to give?
AR: The Brownlees have shown over the last four years that they’re beatable, but as athletes I have absolute respect for them in their ability and for what they’ve done for the sport. They have genuinely changed the way the sport is raced. There is no longer a chance to have a weakness in the swim, to not be strong enough on the bike or to not be able to run a sub-30 minute 10km off a hard bike. In my opinion, and I share that opinion with a lot of other past ITU athletes and current ITU athletes, they are the best that we’ve ever seen and probably will see in a long time. They’ve lifted the bar again in 2016. They’ve shown a new level of achievement. A lot of other athletes, myself included, are now going, “Right let’s keep working to get there.”
And a special mention to Henri Schoeman, the South African. I think he’s been knocking on the door for a WTS podium for a while and now he’s got third at the Olympic Games. It’s a great effort.
Trizone: How about your teammate, Ryan Baillie? To come in the top 10, he must have been pretty happy?
AR: He was happy. I guess he’s the same as me and all athletes – we all want a little bit more. His first part of the bike, he was very close to making the lead group. When that happens you wrestle with the ‘what ifs’. It’s the ‘what ifs’ that kill elite athletes. We all have them all the time. They’re probably not good things to have, but we all have them. So Ryan had some ‘what ifs’ after the race, but to come from the position he was at the start of the run to be top 10 at an Olympic Games was a fantastic effort.
And to be able to share that with Ryan was great. It’s been a 6 year journey with us, even a 7 year journey with Jamie Turner, together. Jamie had another young athlete, Tyler Mislawchuk, who was competing for Canada. Two years ago no one would have thought he would be going to the Olympics, but he came 15th and he’s only 21 years old. So we had three Wollongong Wizards in the top 15. I haven’t been able to sit down with Jamie and get his thoughts on the performances yet, but I think he’ll look back and be proud of our performances. I think as a coach he probably has the same thoughts as us – that there was maybe a little bit more there, but I think he’ll be proud of what we were able to achieve as a squad on the Men’s side.
Trizone: And what’s the plan now? What does the future hold?
AR: More WTS, but I’m looking at doing a couple of 70.3s next year when I’m fit enough and when I feel ready. Busselton and maybe Geelong? I’d like to test myself against a serious field – Reedy, Appo, Crowie, Berks, Sticksy. There are definitely a few legends there. We’ll see what happens!
Ironman Cairns: Kate Phillips’s Ironman Debut A Celebration Of The Possible
Every athlete has their own journey to the start line of an IRONMAN but there are very few who have endured so much and triumphed so graciously, as Brisbane’s Kate Phillips. When Kate makes her IRONMAN debut at the Cairns Airport IRONMAN Cairns Asia Pacific Championship (10 June) she will not only tick off an item from her impressive bucket list but will prove without doubt that “Anything is Possible”.
Kate describes herself as a sporty and active person trapped in a body that simply didn’t want to play ball, in fact, it really didn’t want her to play anything. It wasn’t until her heart and lung transplant in 2013, at the age of 27, that a whole new world was unlocked for her. Now five years after the intense emotion of a miraculous and traumatic operation, Kate is about live out yet another one of her dreams.
Kate’s journey of medical intervention began early on. Born with congenital heart disease, at 10 months she had open-heart surgery to correct the hole in her heart but miraculously she had a relatively normal, although monitored childhood. It wasn’t until her teenage years that she really started to get sick and the deterioration of her heart started to take its toll.
“Throughout my childhood, I was very fortunate to play as a normal kid but I always had restrictions. I could never really run more than 200m at a time without passing out. So I could never do school cross country or anything like that. I played soccer and stuff and loved it but I was frequently subbed off. I loved sport but I wasn’t necessarily great at it and couldn’t do it very long. ‘”When I hit 13 that things started to deteriorate and a glandular virus at 16 further weakened the heart muscles, so pulmonary hypertension and congenital heart disease just started to regress.”
At 23, Kate presented to the hospital with a pulmonary crisis. Overloaded with fluid, her lips were blue and she struggled to walk. Specialists immediately started her on daily drug therapy but that was not a cure and as it would play out was only postponing the inevitable. At the outpatient appointment, some months later, Kate’s already precarious world, really got tipped upside down, when she went into cardiac arrest during a ‘six-minute walk test’.
“It was in front of my mum and a lot of medical people. I was lucky to be in the hospital when it happened.”
Kate managed to stay away from surgery for another three years but eventually, she exhausted all medical possibilities. Transplantation was her only option and she was placed on the national emergency register for a heart and double lung transplant.
“Having the heart and lung combo, a rare combo, kind of freaked me out as well. My doctor had only done one before me, so I was thinking I hope he has read all the textbooks. I was terrified but more for my family because at that stage it is just out of everyone’s control and you just worry more for them. There was no other option, so it was the only time I have ever been excited about seeing the surgery doors.”
“I would love to say that it was like the news about people who wake up and all of a sudden they are ‘Oh my god, I can breathe’. It is nothing like that. I was incredibly sick and I was very fortunate to be on the transplant list when I was. The process is quite rigorous. You have to be seen by almost everybody in the hospital, you have to have psychological testing, your family have to be seen by the psychologist and there is all this stuff to ensure you are the very best fit so donor organs aren’t going to waste. You are in hospital for a week and you are screened and tested for everything.”
“Once I got are through all that and finally listed I immediately went downhill and into heart failure. I wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital until organs came available, so during that period I lost a lot of muscle and everything I had left was really depleted during my time in the ICU. Which meant I was going into the transplant a bit weaker and my recovery was a bit slower than others.”
A month after the transplant Kate was finally sent home, her recovery started to accelerate and she started to hatch realities that had previously only been dreams.
“I forced myself, every day, to go for walks around the block. I was so excited to be wearing joggers and be outside walking because I had never really had the need for them before. Every day I would be challenging myself up hills and every day I was getting stronger. Before I would avoid them or make excuses because I simply couldn’t get up them and be able to walk and talk at the same time was amazing”
“There were a lot of little things too, things other people take for granted, like laying flat in bed. I didn’t realise people could lay in bed without tonnes of pillows to prop themselves up at night. That full lung full of air is just amazing and I had never realized how amazing it is,” she recalled.
Kate had been waiting all her life to be fit and strong and eventually, her impatience got the better of her.
“About a month after I got home, it was a beautiful day and I thought stuff it I am just going to run. I just started running and it was such a surreal experience because I had always dreamed of running and not getting puffed. It was so weird, it was like I wasn’t short of breath. I looked like a duck because I had no muscles in my legs but I was running and I was so excited. It was such a great moment. Once I was able to, I really hit the ground running.”
Kate had always been a swim, ride, run tragic, with her family, friends and her husband at the time all into triathlon and despite being permanently “subbed off” due to her heart and lung condition, she still yearned for the opportunity to be the same as everyone else.
“I was really inspired by all that, sitting on the sidelines thinking ‘One day I definitely have to do that’. I was just itching to get out there and be a part of it. It is such a great thing and I don’t think people realise how much community support there is in triathlon until they are a part of it. It is so exciting, an athletics day for adults and I kind of caught that bug.”
Two months after the transplant Kate walked the 5km Bridge to Brisbane. Twelve months later she did the bike leg in her team with her brother at Noosa Triathlon and the following year, she did her first sprint triathlon at Raby Bay, backing up a month later with her full Noosa debut.
“I had always targeted Noosa because I had watched that race so many times and it felt like such a local race to me having grown up on the Sunshine Coast. There is something so special about the Noosa Tri and I just lost it at the finish line. Even running into the finish chute I had tears in my eyes, I was so overwhelmed. Even now, just thinking about it I tear up.”
“It sounds so stupid but as soon as I got the transplant I remember lying in hospital waiting to ask the doctors whether I could one day do the Noosa Triathlon. To finally have done it, it was so amazing and to have my family on the sidelines cheering me on, rather than me cheering them was amazing. I will never forget that.”
Kate took another giant step in 2016 completing IRONMAN 70.3 Cairns and with that under her belt she is now in full preparation for Cairns Airport IRONMAN Cairns Asia-Pacific Championship. A challenge that is taxing her physically and emotionally but one she is determined to conquer.
“Talking to my brother recently telling him how I am having so many self-doubts about the race. I hate that because I have always been so positive but really we should look at it as how much of a privilege it is stressed and anxious about trying to get through an IRONMAN, rather than waiting for donor organs. It really puts life into perspective when you look at it like that. I am so lucky to be freaking out about this rather than waiting for a second chance.”
“I have been to Cairns before so that is why I chose to go back and do the full IRONMAN there. I like that I have seen the course before and I really enjoyed my time up there. I love the looped run course around town at the end. I am really looking forward to going back there and getting it done,” she said.
Dr Andrew Graham Fulfilling An Ironman Promise for a Mate in Cairns
How do you honour your best friend of more than 30 years and someone instrumental in changing your life? Well, one way is to fulfil your promise to your mate and complete an IRONMAN, knowing you haven’t done enough training and that it is going to hurt like hell.
That is the plan of Cairns local, Dr Andrew Graham, who on Sunday 10 June will swim, ride and run in honour of his friend Greg Parr.
As an IRONMAN finisher and one of the country’s leading orthopaedic surgeons, with vast experience in the field of survival training, Andrew is fully aware that he hasn’t had the ideal preparation but he is comfortable with the fact that it is, what it is.
“I did the original triathlons in Queensland back in 1982 but gave it up for a long time. I was always wanting to do the IRONMAN because I had seen Hawaii on TV, so in 2012, I did the first my first IRONMAN with my mate Greg Parr, with whom I had done a lot of seven-day adventure races.”
“I had cracked out a pretty good swim and ride and I was in the tent feeling crap, completely nude with a towel over myself chatting to a volunteer. Then there was a voice behind me, ‘What the hell are you doing, get up you lazy bastard’. I knew who it was without turning around and I said ‘Greg, just leave me alone, all I want to do is sit her for half an hour’. The only way I was going to leave the tent was if he was prepared to hold hands and skip for the first km. Sure enough, this six feet two, high powered lawyer did it.”
Andrew said Greg had an awesome outlook on life that was simply infectious.
“He would always say, ‘What would you rather have, time or money?’ He always chose time. As a lawyer, he refused to work more than four days a week and always spent the fifth day training for triathlon with his wife. They were both passionate about it and he was such an inspiration for me.
“About six or seven years ago I was in private practice, had an ulcer and was burning up and going loopy. He was the one who convinced me to go back to the public hospital where I am now because I love teaching the young doctors and I hadn’t done it for fifteen years. He is the man who convinced me to do that and changed my life and IRONMAN has changed both our lives for the better. Then he goes and dies, the bastard,” he said with both a deep sadness and a laugh that acknowledged their closeness.
“Greg had a sore shoulder for a couple of years and I investigated it and found cancer in his lower lung. We did everything known to man, including having his lung resected and all sorts of stuff. At the start of the year I promised Greg I would do this year’s IRONMAN with him and we both knew in our heart of hearts that is was probably going to be his last one. Unfortunately, he died seven weeks ago.”
“His wife Sharmie is an absolute passionate IRONMAN supporter who has completed 25 IRONMANS and multiple Konas is too upset to do this race this year. I promised him, so I have to do it. So I am going to wear all his gear, his helmet and I expect to take at least half an hour in transition changing into his riding gear. Greg used to always run with a straw hat on, god knows why, so I have his hat and a lovely photo of him laminated which I will carry on the bike and on the run,” Andrew said.
Andrew’s preparation is unique at best. He has been away in France with his family taking his father to the WW1 sites where his grandfather fought and a week in Africa with his daughter who was doing a medical placement in Malawi in Africa.
“Unfortunately the most exercise that involved was me opening a beer at 12 o’clock every day in the back of a 4WD because clearly I wasn’t allowed to get out and run around with the lions. When I was in France I was with my dad who is pretty crook, so the only exercise I had was pushing him around in a wheelchair with him in tears most of the time, understanding what his father went through.”
“That was my program for five weeks but in the last ten days, I have upped it. My swimming program has consisted of buying a pair of goggles and the day before I bought a pair of togs. I have been a surf lifesaver for twenty years so hopefully, the muscle memory with come back. The running program has been two runs in Paris, where I got lost, and the cobblestones are so hard that I had to take a lot of beer and Panadol at night to ease the pain. I think that was the Lord telling me not to do any more running,” Andrew laughed.
A 58 year old hardcore mountain biker and with a part-time job as an outdoor guide working with a bunch of special forces soldiers who run an adventure company that specialises in extreme or survival type trips, Andrew is hoping his residual fitness, his love of his mate and the support of the Cairns community will be enough to get him across the line.
“I have to stay vaguely fit for those times when they drop us out into the middle of the Kimberleys and have ten days to get back, finding your own food and water. I joke about not training but through my speciality in wilderness medicine I know exactly what can happen, so a lot of my race will be trying to take things carefully and easily with food and drink.”
Andrew is very passionate about Cairns and the IRONMAN’s impact on the local community.
“Everyone really gets behind this race and the IRONMAN helps and inspires a lot of people. Putting these events on around the country improves the health of a lot of folks. It might only be two per cent but so many people after the race up here say that they were so inspired by the people in the IRONMAN that they have gone off walking, walking the dog, playing tennis or whatever. Mums and their kids are out there at 8 o’clock at night cheering people on and it is just lovely to be a part of that,” he said.
Ironman Cairns: The Comeback Trail Leads to Cairns for Mildura’s John Fisher
Training in Sunraysia with four layers of clothing to protect against the brisk morning air, Mildura’s John Fisher isn’t complaining, he is just happy to be up and about and dreaming of the warmth of Cairns and his IRONMAN comeback on 10 June.
One of the Gold Coast’s triathlon early adopters of the late 80s, John lost touch with the triathlon when he moved to Victoria for work and study, but eventually making his debut at IRONMAN Australia in 2013 and then racing IRONMAN Melbourne in late 2014.
“I originally got into IRONMAN through a friend of mine who passed away from cancer. He was hoping to make the event but didn’t quite get there, so I actually did that race on his behalf. But in late 2013 and throughout 2014, I got quite ill. It was a mystery and no one could work out what it was. I ended up going to a doctor in Melbourne who diagnosed me with a thing called Fibromyalgia, which is a cross between a chronic fatigue and arthritis.”
“Fibromyalgia is incredibly painful and I would get up shower and have no energy so I would go back to bed. It affected the whole of my body, you suffer constant migraines, your body is in total pain and even talking is painful .It is debilitating to the point where you wonder if you are going to get better. Some days you wouldn’t have a bad day and others it would come back. But most days I would be bedridden.”
Dramatically restricted by the soul destroying and debilitating condition, John credits the remarkable Turia Pitt for providing him with the inspiration to kick start his life and literally get him back on his feet.
“I went to IRONMAN in Port Macquarie and I happened to meet Turia Pitt who was racing there and she inspired me and I ended up doing a seven week program that she had over the internet on motivation. I thought, ‘That is it, I am sick of lying around’. So I got up and started walking.”
“I remember the first day I got out of bed and was walking along, tripped over a driveway, fell on my face and this old guy came over, picked me up and asked me if I was alright. I walked back to the car and thought ‘I am not going to do it. That is it, I am finished’. But I fought my way back and went down to the oval and did half a lap, a few weeks later did another and slowly got better.”
“That half a lap turned into a lap, then a kilometre. I started off from scratch again with everything, swim, ride and run. I couldn’t even get my leg over the bike when I started it was so hard. When I did a reasonable training session it would take me about a week to recover, it was that bad. I didn’t get better straight away, it came and went over a three year period. The doctor said that I would find that after a while the good days will get longer and the bad days will get shorter. At the moment I am feeling pretty good, so I am bit excited.”
“My first actual race back that I tried was Busselton but they had to cancel the swim. I got onto the bike and I thought I am feeling good I am going to do this and I got cleaned up by another rider and ended up in the medical tent and told not to continue. So I was devastated so IRONMAN Cairns is me having another crack. It is my comeback race.”
“Cairns is a significant race in a lot of respects. I have lost another friend to cancer, a friend of 39 years that I used to train and do a lot with and he has been my inspiration as well. He had a saying that I placed on my cap that I train with and every time I am feeling down I look at it and keep going. It says “Every day is a beautiful day’. Before he passed away he just said to me ‘Keep going’,” John recalled.
The small contingent from Mildura has put all the hard work in but there is no pressure, all they are focused on is getting their fair share of the warmth of tropical sun and enjoying all the region has to offer.
“We have a little bit of a team going up to Cairns, four competing and a couple coming with me have been really inspirational in helping me out. So it should be good. They have told me I have to finish, there is no stopping.”
“We were training in four degrees this morning with three layers of clothes and a jacket, so I am hoping when we get to Cairns we can ditch all the layers and get down to normal training gear. A transition here at the moment would take about 30 minutes. We are going from one climate to another so it will be interesting. I have never been to Cairns so I am really looking forward to getting away and we are staying for a few days to take in all the attractions up there.”
“I used to do about 13 hours but I just happy to be competing and finishing will be a bonus. I don’t care about the time. If I cross that line it will be the happiest day of my life,” John declared.
Emma Pallant: From Amateur Runner to World-Class Triathlete
British triathlete Emma Pallant has just won a gold medal at Ironman 70.3 Barcelona last weekend for the second year in a row. She also holds a silver medal from the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, and she became the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Duathlon Champion and British Duathlon Champion in 2015.
Trizone chatted with Pallant before the Barcelona race about her 2018 season. She shared stories and insights about her training, an injury from a December bike crash, another injury in April, recent victories, and her outlook on upcoming triathlons. She also chronicled her evolution from a runner to a duathlete to a short-course, then a long-course, triathlete.
From Runner to Triathlete
Pallant began training for triathlons in 2013 after she met her first triathlon coach, two-time Olympian Michelle Dillon. Pallant had a solid running background, but little experience in swimming and cycling. She already had a number of injuries as well. When she told Dillon she wanted to be a world-class triathlete, Dillon took her in with a great enthusiasm that surprised her.
Pallant joined Michelle’s Team Dillon that year. During her tenure on the team as a resident, which spanned through a good portion of 2016, she participated in a number of short-course and Olympic distance duathlons and triathlons. However, she learned that it just wasn’t her thing. “With the swim not being my strongest, I was always chasing the leading packs on the bike,” she said.
Training for Ironman 70.3 Triathlon
The swimming handicap, along with obstacles preventing her from trying out for the Rio Olympics, made Pallant decide to look into longer races. In 2016, she set her sights on Ironman 70.3 triathlons. Each course features a 1.9km swim, a 90km bike, and a 21.1km run. This makes the swim leg a smaller percentage of the race.
While Team Dillon now includes long-distance athletes, they mainly specialized in short-course races at the time. Pallant wasn’t ready for longer ones in the beginning. “I was fainting in races. I was always dying at the end. Every race was a trial on the nutrition front,” Pallant said. Luckily, she had access to a nutritionist and medical professionals within the team.
By the end of the year, Bob De Wolf, CEO of BMC Vifit Sport Pro Triathlon Team, contacted her. She soon joined the team, which includes a number of world class triathletes from around the world. Like Team Dillon, it also includes a physiologist, a doctor, a masseuse, a nutritionist, and other professionals.
Like Team Dillon, members are dispersed geographically. They often come together to do “camps”, or periods of intensive training. They also meet up before and after triathlons. For example, when Pallant and some other members learned they were all going to race in Barcelona in 2017, they made plans. “We planned on an extra week so we could eat together and talk about our experiences. We each did our own training. It was kind of cool being able to hang out and do the same things,” Pallant said.
Pallant recalled conversations between team members that were educational as well. “I think it’s fun, and it’s really good for the highs and lows. If one person didn’t get the outcome they wanted, we can learn from the good and the bad. I think, definitely, as a team, it makes you stronger for sure.”
2018: A Podium Finish & a “Did Not Finish” in South Africa
Pallant was injured in a mid-December bike crash, but she still managed to make the podium at Ironman 70.3 South Africa 2018 the next month. “I did rehab, and I decided to race a 70.3 at the end of January. It was to motivate a kind of acceleration back in. I came in second there,” Pallant said.
The silver medal gave Pallant motivation to aim high for her first full-distance triathlon, South Africa’s Ironman African Championship in mid-April. “Ultimately, this is the distance I want to do,” she said.
Pallant re-joined her Team Dillon family at the end of February. She worked as a coach in a week-long training camp for age-group triathletes in Mojacar, Spain. She also spent a few weeks training for the African Championship there.
Unfortunately, Pallant had to settle for a “Did Not Finish” in South Africa because she injured a nerve in her calf during the bike leg.
“My calf went out halfway into the bike. I was trying to get lower in positioning. I’m quite flexible. I do yoga. I thought I could get down into a more aero position. But then, if you’re in that position for five hours straight, well, you know,” Pallant said.
She continued, “I assumed it was a cramp. I treated it as a cramp, and I didn’t run for a week. I had a load of deep tissue work done on it. I couldn’t run with it off the bike. It just felt like it was on fire. It didn’t get much better. The physio and masseuse worked on me at the BMC camp, and the masseuse said I had a trapped nerve in L5. We treated that, then I was back running.”
Flipping Disaster on Its Head & Winning a Gold
Unexpected events can disrupt plans, especially if you have races in the near-future. About such setbacks, Pallant said, “I couldn’t plan my goals much because I didn’t know how long it would take to heal.”
For her, the calf injury and other unfortunate events aren’t really setbacks, however. “Sometimes things are gonna go wrong that you weren’t expecting. To deal with it, that you did not finish, it feels pretty rotten. But then I think you can change that, flip that on its head,” Pallant said.
She continued, “As soon as I’m refocused on the next goal, then I just use that as the drive. I’m looking to my next race, and looking at what I can learn from this. What areas did I learn from the race that did go well, and what can I implement in training? Whether you win or lose, I think you should respond the same. It’s still education. It’s still your plan. You can use it in exactly the same way.”
The injury caused Pallant to cancel her spot in Spain’s Ironman 70.3 Marbella, which was at the end of the month. However, her impeccable resilience and winner’s mindset soon paid off. She won a gold medal at the Mallorca Olympic Triathlon just three weeks after the injury.
A New Love for Full-Distance Ironman Races
Despite the mayhem, Pallant found during the African Championship that full-distance races are the way to go.
“I was actually really relaxed going into the race,” Pallant said. “To me, Super League, a much shorter race, was a nightmare. I’m not the quickest in transitions. Literally, you make one mistake and that’s it. You’re out. At the Ironman, I went in with a particular mindset. If you mentally know what you can handle because of what you’ve been through in training, then you know that, whatever happens, you can get to that finish line. It made me respect the event a lot more.”
Winning in Barcelona. What’s Next?
Pallant has just finished with a gold medal at Ironman 70.3 Barcelona on May 20th. That’s not too surprising, as she has a couple months of great training sessions behind her. Next up is the Ironman 70.3 Samorin, just two weeks later.
Trizone asked what she expects for that race. Pallant said, “It’s leading into summer, and it’s totally the kind of course that I wouldn’t normally choose to go to. I’m going only because it’s such a fantastic event, and a lot of the top girls will be there. I kind of have been persuaded to do it. I still think it’s good course to work on your weaknesses, for trying to make yourself a more robust athlete.”
She further elaborated on the course. “I think it’ll be a pretty fast swim, a really big power bike, and I think the run course has a little bit of everything,” she said. “It’s a fast kind of road surface.”
Regarding the calibre of the race, she said, “I think it’s a massive event. They have loads of media, and they’re going to do a pretty good job of covering it. They also want to help the pros with accommodation so that we get the best view. Hopefully, that makes for an exciting race.”
Tough Competition Ahead
The “top girls” Pallant expects to see are last year’s podium finishers: Lucy Charles, Annabel Luxford, and Heather Wurtele.
“Annie Thoren will be key in my race,” Pallant said. “She’s super strong on the swim. I need to hold onto her on that and on the bike because her run is phenomenal. I definitely think she’ll be a massive contender.”
Training & Recovery Before Challenge Samorin
About her training before the event, Pallant said, “We’re just gonna try to get as many bike power sessions in as possible. The swim and the run won’t change a massive amount. I’ll be doing really hard work on the bike and just trying to get my strength and power up as much as possible.”
Pallant is confident that the two weeks between Barcelona and Samorin is sufficient time to recover for the latter.
“I can probably do 3 or 4 races in a row, and then I need another training block,” she said. My training’s very high volume. I find that the more races I do, the better. The tapering drives me a little bit mental, so I have to be careful. I have Staffordshire, which is the weekend after, so another 70.3. It’s just a matter of swinging that in. That’ll be enough.”
Matthew Hauser: Behind the Scenes of the Commonwealth Games & What it Took to Get There
Matthew Hauser is becoming a household name among triathlon fans. The 20-year-old’s most recent victory was the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games mixed team relay triathlon. He competed on the Australian team. In the elite men’s individual triathlon, he came in fourth. He also earned a silver medal in the International Triathlon Union’s (ITU’s) 2018 Mooloolaba World Cup. He first made a name for himself after winning the 2017 ITU World Cup in Chengdu.
Trizone caught up with him to talk about his struggles leading up to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and his performance, training, behind the scenes stories, and his plans for the future. He also spoke about the Mooloolaba World Cup and other highlights of the 2018 season.
Injury & Uncertainty Leading Up to the Commonwealth Games
Last year, Hauser had a stress-related fibula injury that almost prevented him from competing in the Commonwealth Games. He told Trizone, “I was kind of panicked. It was just before selection. I wanted to get to a point where I would be selected, but then I was against the clock with this injury. It was a stressful lead up. I had the flu and this overhanging injury on my mind. I had a relapse as well. I was starting to get some run fitness back, and there was some stress in the bone just before Christmas.”
In the months before the Commonwealth Games, media outlets were asking Hauser for comments because he was a Gold Coast local. This occasionally made him nervous, because it reminded him that the pressure was on. “I felt like there was a spotlight on me, being a local athlete,” he said.
Good thing for Hauser, there came a point when he changed his perspective and training focus. He was also surrounded by a supportive crowd that included his coach and training partners. This helped alleviate his anxiety.
“I always had this belief in myself that my body would be alright on the day of. I just started focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and trying to climb that ladder to peak fitness. It was a slow journey. It felt like it took forever, but all that shifted my focus away from the pressure of the Games. At that point, it wasn’t about how I’d perform there, but about getting fit, and getting the body into shape again. That helped with the psychological side of things,” Hauser said.
Hauser’s performance manager, Justin Drew, told him that February’s Luke Harrop Memorial Games would decide whether he was ready for the Commonwealth Games. They both understood this was the race that would “get rid of all reasonable doubt that I was not ready for the Games.”
Renewed Hope at the Luke Harrop Memorial Games
The first race of the year can be a bit annoying and unpredictable. After building his run up to a mere 25-30km per week, Hauser was a little uncertain how the Luke Harrop Games would go. He was counting on a strong bike performance.
“I managed to lead for the first 5-10km or so, and then came back to the group,” Hauser said, referring to the bike leg.
Due to water quality concerns, the swim leg was canceled. That left only the bike and run. During the run, Hauser’s main goal was to stay as close as possible to fellow Australian triathlete Luke Willian.
“I could definitely feel those 25-30km weeks toward the latter half of the first run. I think one run would have done me fine. To have two in there was a bit of a struggle, but I managed to hold on. I got as close as I could to Luke in the end, but he was too strong,” Hauser said.
In the end, Willian claimed gold with a time of 49:16. Hauser won silver just six seconds behind him. This was when things started looking up for the Commonwealth Games.
It took one more race to seal his full confidence: The ITU Mooloolaba World Cup in March.
Mooloolaba Podium Finish Seals “a New Lease”
There were only a couple weeks between Luke Harrop and Mooloolaba, so Hauser was pretty confident leading into the latter. He also knew it would be a challenge. He was up against not only Willian, but also USA’s Matthew McElroy and South Africa’s Richard Murray.
The prep for Mooloolaba was centered around mindset.
“I just tried to emulate the mindset of successful races in the past, like Rotterdam. I think I really nailed that mindset leading into this race. I knew I had to recreate that mental state, in order to be prepared for the Commonwealth Games as well. Just focusing on staying in the moment, and creating opportunities for myself, and not letting others dictate the race. I think that was really important,” he said.
By this point, Hauser was feeling much better about his run.
Hauser reflected on the experience, “I knew I had the legs on the run. Richard Murray just flew off from the gun, and I had to pace myself with a few others behind me, like Sam Ward and Matt McElroy. Catching Richard toward the end was a big confidence boost of mine. I said to myself, ‘If I can get this close and I still have a few weeks left, then I can get a little more work in and see how it goes.’”
Murray, Hauser, and McElroy took gold, silver, and bronze, respectively, within a span of eight seconds. Murray finished in 53:09. Willian finished eighth in 53:44.
It was a near-perfect moment on the journey toward the Commonwealth Games.
“When Luke Harrop happened, and when Mooloolaba happened, it was like I had a new lease on life. All that stress released, and I thought ‘I’ve got nothing to lose now,’” he said.
Arrival at the Commonwealth Games
Up through Mooloolaba, Hauser successfully kept his anxiety in check by keeping his mind focused on the here and now. Apparently, it was a winning strategy. After Mooloolaba, he continued this mindset during his training sessions and performances in the Commonwealth Games.
The strategy worked well. “I went into the games quite relaxed. I was just trying to enjoy the experience. Just being there in the moment and not letting the mind waver or run to the finish line too early,” Hauser said. “It was critical to my prep. The nervousness and excitement turned into potential results.”
By the elite men’s triathlon, Hauser began to realize that this long mental and emotional journey, before such a high profile event, was just a normal part of the sport.
On the morning of the triathlon, Hauser got up and did what he calls a wake up jog. Afterward, he prepared for the day by going through notes he created in his iPhone. He, and other competitors, also had plenty of time to watch the elite women’s triathlon and see how the women did on the course.
When he arrived at the site of the men’s start line, he went into tunnel vision mode. “I just wanted to get on the start line,” he said. “[To] any volunteer who came to me, I said, ‘not now. I’m in the zone.’ I kept it relaxed until that two or three hour buffer, when I’m checking in and doing all this stuff before the race. When you keep it relaxed, you can really intensify the psychological side of things during the crunch time before the race.”
Muscling Through the Swim
Despite his successes with the previous races, Hauser didn’t have enough points for an ideal position on the start line. This handicap wasn’t a big deal to him. He said, “I had to reassure myself that, no matter where I was on the start line, it was all about the first 200-300m to the first buoy.”
The swim wasn’t easy. “For the first 100-200m, I just had to muscle through it.”
He was surrounded by the Brownlee Brothers, Tayler Reid, Mark Austin, and other big name athletes. “I was comfortable heading there in 5th or 6th behind those guys. I felt like I had the energy on reserve,” he said. Hauser exited the swim in a leading pack of six.
The leading pack kept a good buffer into the bike, but Hauser began with a struggle. “The first five minutes was a tough time for me, especially trying to assess the slickness of the surface with my tires, and getting a feel for the corners,” Hauser said.
Hauser looked to the Brownlees to lead for the first few minutes. He said, “When you got people as experienced and strong as the Brownlee Brothers, you have to let them lead you around the course for the first bit, because they’re probably the least likely to make mistakes out there.” He kept a close eye on Alistair Brownlee and watched how he turned corners.
Hauser quickly “got into a groove” and settled in with the group. The corners “became second nature by the end of the bike,” he said.
“They Just Lifted Me”: Deafening Audience Erases the Pain During Run
Hauser, along with Reid, was one of the first onto the run. Mark Austin and Jonny Brownlee followed. The first half of the first lap was rough. His legs were in pain. He could barely breathe, and he was waiting for the people behind him to run past him.
When he began the second half of the first lap, it was the crowd who helped him propel to his near-podium finish. “They just lifted me,” Hauser said. “I could no longer feel the pain. It just slowly went away. I was like ‘Now that I got through that, I can get on with the race.’ I knew I was a stronger runner.” It was game on for the rest of the run.
This is when he was able to give the crowd what they wanted. Hauser said, “I picked up the pace, and the crowd was so bloody deafening. It was crazy. It was almost like they took the pain away from my legs. I was running on excitement and energy.”
At one point he watched fellow Australian and mixed relay teammate, Jake Birtwhistle whiz right past him. Hauser felt happy for him, knowing that Birtwhistle put a lot of energy into this race. He knew that Ryan Scissons and Richard Murray would be right behind Birtwhistle. A quick glance in back of him confirmed this.
“Scissons came up behind me and sat on me for a bit, and tried to go around me, in that second lap. I held onto him and used the crowd to attack him with 400-500m to go. It’s funny that I was so concentrated on Scissons,” Hauser said.
In the final 400m, Hauser spotted Mark Austin ahead of him and decided to catch up with him. He said, “He looked up at the big screen and saw me closing in fast. I think he kind of sh#t himself there.”
Hauser came in fourth in 52:46, just behind Austin. It was both a joyful and painful moment. “I put that little bit extra in and crossed the finish two seconds off the podium in the end. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I was also super excited that I came back and recovered from my early minutes on the run and finished it off,” Hauser said.
Taking silver and gold were Birtwhistle (52:38) and South Africa’s Henri Schoeman (52:31). The first four finishes spanned a brief 15 seconds. The podium finishes spanned 13.
“Hungry for More” at the Mixed Team Relay
The mixed relay triathlon was two days later, on Saturday, 7thApril. The Australian team was announced on Friday morning and included Hauser, Birtwhistle, Ashleigh Gentle, and Gillian Backhouse.
After the elite men’s race, Hauser spent some time with family members who attended the events. The team got together on Friday evening. Hauser described the mood that night.
“We really revved ourselves up. We were kind of still hungry for more. We knew we had a point to prove after the world champs last year. We thought England would be tough to beat. They just came off the champs in Glasgow. Reflecting on all our individual performances, we were really excited to give that gold medal a crack,” Hauser said.
The team didn’t create much of a strategy other than deciding the order of participation in the relay. On Saturday, they looked at the board to see who they were up against. They all had a pretty good sense of what to do during the race. Hauser said, “In the end, it was a team thing, but it was individual performances stacked on top of each other. I think that’s how we went into the race.”
During the early stages of the race, Backhouse and Britain’s Vicky Holland lead the way. Five minutes before the changeover, Hauser and Jonny Brownlee had a brief strategy session. As Hauser describes it, “It’s just Australia and England now. We should work together on the swim and bike, and then really distance ourselves, and leave it to the run to see who changes over.”
Nullifying the Jonny Brownlee Threat
Hauser and Brownlee were tagged by their teammates roughly five seconds apart. Hauser recalls the swim. He said, “Brownlee had a buffer on me, but I think I caught up to him in the first few strokes of the swim. It was good to be on his heels then. We worked really well. I think we put in 10-15 seconds into the other guys, even though there were three of them. I tried to drop him with all my might and power, but he was too strong in the end.” He noted that he stayed close enough to Brownlee to nullify any threat.
UK’s Learmonth Stumbles After Bike, Securing Australian Win
The deciding factor in the race was an epic showdown between Gentle and Britain’s Jessica Learmonth. Learmonth left the water about 15 seconds before Gentle, but Gentle caught up with her on the bike. During the transition to the run, Learmonth stumbled while dismounting the bike, allowing Gentle to sprint ahead.
Gentle tagged Birtwhistle, who turned a 39 second lead over Alistair Brownlee into 52 seconds. Birtwhistle crossed the finish line. Australia won gold with a time of 01:17:36.
Once Birtwhistle entered the run, the Australian team knew they had already won. Gillian, Gentle, and Hauser greeted him at the finish line to a roaring crowd.
A Win for the Home Team & the Sport of Triathlon
Hauser recalled that moment. “It nourished our hunger. The gold was really good. Embracing him at the line was a pretty special moment with the crowd going off,” he said. “I think it was a bit of Australian pride, knowing we’d given something back to the Australian public and contributed to the medal tally for the Australian team. I think it was a special time for us because, obviously, triathlon isn’t the main event in the CWG.”
Hauser noted he felt that the victory lifted the status of the sport of triathlon within Australia, possibly inspiring future generations of Australian triathletes.
Hauser Gives Credit to a Supportive Community
Hauser had relatives, training partners, and others who shared his glory after the gold. Some fellow triathletes were also able to console him after his two-second deficit from the podium.
One such person was Australian para triathlete Nick Beveridge. Beveridge is one of his training partners, and he’s now his roommate. Hauser was able to watch him perform in the para triathlon on the same day as the mixed relay. Beveridge won a silver medal that day.
Miles Stewart, retired triathlete and CEO of Triathlon Australia, congratulated Hauser and helped him put his fourth-place individual triathlon finish in perspective.
“He said he’d come fourth a lot of times, and that just really made him hungry to get to the podium the next time around,” Hauser said. “Reflecting with him on that was pretty cool, because I could definitely relate at that point in time. The hunger was definitely there to keep on keeping on. Knowing I was two seconds off the podium was a massive confidence boost. Looking to the future, it was kind of exciting to see that he went through the same thing, and it motivated him to go on to win seven world championships.”
Hauser credits his family for all their support through the years. About them he said, “They (parents) have been fantastic. They haven’t pushed me into anything. They’ve been there to support, and love. I come from a very Christian family. A lot of values and morals. We’re centered around that, so I’m very thankful for that and the upbringing. Having them there, and helping to keep me very grounded, it’s massively important.”
Hauser noted that people often not only congratulate him on his race performances, but also for having great parents. Both parents sacrificed a lot to help him and his sister pursue their careers. His sister is an actor in Brisbane.
Hauser’s mother also attends every single race, so her support is very visible to others.
“I can always hear a distinct voice in the crowd,” he said, referring to his mom. “I’ve heard it throughout my sporting career. Just having that reassurance that they’re there supporting me and loving me. It’s pretty fantastic.
Next Stop: Yokohama, Then Tokyo
After a week of celebrations following the Commonwealth Games, Hauser began training for ITU’s World Triathlon Yokohama, which is on the 21stof May.
Yokohama is a sprint distance triathlon. What’s motivating Hauser even more is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the prospect of which is allowing him to expand his horizons and train for longer races.
“That’s the next step,” he said. “Tokyo will be Olympic distance, so I can’t really shy away from it any longer. I’m just excited to push myself and train to get to that next level, and prove to myself whether I can really perform under those kinds of distances. And prove to the rest of the ITU circuit as well. I’m really looking forward to the challenge. And pushing my body to that kind of level.”
Tokyo will be the first Olympic Games to feature the mixed team relay triathlon format.
AFL Champ Brent Staker Makes Triathlon Debut at Mooloolaba
With high profile career with the West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Lions, athletic key position player Brent Staker has experienced the constant physical demands of competition, the resulting injuries and all the highs and lows that cut throat professional sports can deliver. Football was his life and after years of structured training and competition, like many athletes before him, the veteran of 160 AFL games found himself retired far too early and in need of a new sporting outlet.
Retirement is often very frustrating for elite sportspeople and increasingly, elite athletes from all codes and sports are finding their way to the new sporting challenge of swim/ride/run. On Sunday (11 March) Brent is making his triathlon debut and taking the plunge, joining the more than 3,000 athletes competing at the iconic Mooloolaba Triathlon, racing over the standard distance of 1500m swim/40km ride/10km run.
“This is my first triathlon, my very first one. My plan was to try and squeeze in a few smaller ones in the lead up but unfortunately with work commitments and other things in life getting in the way and I couldn’t get it to work out. I am the assistant coach for the Brisbane Lions women’s team in the AFLW so there is a commitment there and I didn’t have enough time to have the practice run. So this event will be my very first triathlon.”
“I dedicated myself to playing football for 13 years and didn’t really explore any other sports in that time. But I always knew that when I retired I would give something like this a go. Last year I transitioned out of footy and I got to the end of the year and made the commitment to apply myself and have a crack at triathlon. I thought Mooloolaba would be a great one to start with.”
“When you are playing professional sport you get so used to a schedule week in week out that when you do retire you do miss it and sometimes get a bit lost. Although it is not 100 per cent necessary in your life, having a schedule or a fitness regime is great. I developed my own training program and have stuck to it since early December. When you are retired you can sit around and do nothing so it has kept my mind active and all the exercise helps get rid of the negative energy. Staying active it keeps your mind fresh and keeps you positive and gives you a goal. This is my goal to tick off the Mooloolaba Tri and I am working towards that.”
“I have always had a keen interest in triathlon because I like the sport. It is a great challenge. I went to the Accenture Series races many years ago and I watched Courtney Atkinson competing over in Perth and just enjoyed the whole spectacle, the hype and the build up around it. I have watched the Noosa Triathlon, having a few beers in the stands, seeing how hard the competitors work. So there has always been a genuine interest and I have always enjoyed watching it on TV and at the Olympics. It has always been in the back of my mind to have a go at it one day and do it for fun and see what I can get out of it.”
At 196cm and weighing around 100kg, Brent is not the regular build of a triathlete but during his time with the Eagles and the Lions he exhibited amazing athleticism and endurance and he is hoping his big motor and determination will get him across the finish line.
“I have always been an okay swimmer so maybe that was a bit of a fluke. I am good in the pool but putting that into the ocean is going to be the biggest challenge for me. I haven’t done that much open water swimming so my depth perception with the goggles on might throw me a little bit, and obviously adjusting to the waves will be a challenge. I can swim, I am just hoping for a pretty flat day.”
“During my football career I had a couple of knee reconstructions and my rehab involved getting a road bike and I had plenty of time spent out on the bike during what turned to be two years of rehabilitation. I learned the road etiquette, how to ride and enjoy the challenge of that. Cycling is a really good sport and I know sometimes riders get a bad rap but it is a really, really great sport. I really enjoyed it and I have a nice bike that I ride most mornings. So that leg should be okay. I am weighing a bit more than I was when I was playing and that might go against me a bit but the running should be okay.”
Brent has found the transition from being a part of team structure to an individual sport quite challenging but he is slowly coming to terms with the demands of competing for himself.
“It has been different not having a team structure around me. The main thing with a team sport is that when you are hurting you can rely on someone to talk to or push you through. But 95 per cent of my sessions have been done on my own so when I am starting to hurt I am really challenging myself to get through it. That has been a huge change. Especially with sticking to the routine and getting out of bed at 4.30am three or four mornings a week. Doing a ride, doing a swim, fitting in a run and a few strength sessions as well. A lot of kudos goes out to the individual athletes out there that have done it for a long period of time. It is amazing how they stick at it and stay strong.”
“I can already see why people get addicted to it. It keeps you sticking to a routine and it is a great way to meet other people and socialize. All those things are great but clearly there is also an addiction to the challenge and the heat of the moment when your mind is saying no and the body keeps going. That is the challenge that I am looking forward to experiencing and seeing how I push through that. Hopefully I will come out the other side feeling pretty good.
As the forward coach at the Brisbane Lions AFLW team and doing radio commentary in Brisbane and the Gold Coast during the AFL season, Brent still has an active role in football but he is hoping triathlon will become his next passion.
“I do miss the footy. I miss the physicality and the highs and lows. One of the best things you can do is run out on game day, through the banner and hearing the crowd. That is something I really miss and is something you can’t replace. It is such a unique thing that is hard to describe what it is like in those moments. I don’t think I will ever be able to describe it perfectly but it is a real buzz being out there. I do miss it. I have sort of been visualizing what the triathlon will be like, as silly as that sounds. The swim, the bike or the run and pushing through the pain but I hadn’t taken into account the crowd and how much their support might help. Hopefully they can give me a lift,” Brent said.
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